03 Nov 2 Seas Agency’s Return to the Gothenburg Book Fair
By Chrysothemis Armefti — Article published in November 2023
From September 28-30th 2023, just a few weeks before the Frankfurt Book Fair, senior Agent Chrysothemis attended the Gothenburg Book Fair. Read all about her Nordic adventures here!
I was delighted to be in Gothenburg again, five years after my first visit in 2018. A busy publishing hub for editors and agents from Nordic and other countries, authors, and translators. It is also a beautiful city to discover under an autumnal atmosphere. The Gothenburg Book Fair is considered the largest cultural event in the Nordic countries, with four intense days packed with over 750 exhibitors and nearly 4000 program events. This year they counted 85,936 visits with participating publishers, reporting record-breaking book sales!
It was great to be back. Because of Covid and the ongoing changes in the Scandinavian publishing scene, several editors have not been going to the Frankfurt or London Book Fairs in recent years. They were also very selective in their meetings given their lower number of rights acquisitions. Besides being a local fair open to the public, the Fair has a publishing fellowship and an organized rights center. It has been welcoming acquiring editors not only from Sweden but also from the other Nordic countries, and from Germany, the Netherlands, and English-speaking countries amongst others. Swedish editors were mostly attending book launches and presentations with their authors, as well as various conferences on the ongoing changes that the publishing business is facing (including audiobooks and the use of AI), but were still eager to meet foreign rights agents despite their packed schedules.
I was not sure how many meetings I would end up having (it is unlike the Frankfurt and London Book Fairs, where our schedules are finalized and full weeks if not months in advance) and thought I could meet people at the lobby outside of the Rights Center, or at their stands. So I didn’t book a table at the Rights Centre. This turned out to be a big mistake!
Unlike previous years, the Rights Center was now located on the ground floor, closer to the publishers’ stands, and next to the food court. Everything worked out well though — after finding a nice table outside of the ‘old’ Rights Center and informing my meetings about the location change, I had a fruitful and full two-day schedule with publishers of various genres. Thanks to the wide range of our catalog I had meetings with publishers of literary fiction & nonfiction, children’s books, and practical books. Saturday, my third day at the Fair, was also full of meetings at publishers’ stands, even though it was the busiest day for Swedish editors. The fairgrounds were crowded because it was an open day to the public. Readers were standing in line for the many presentations, book launches, book signings, and other organized events.
It was important to attend this year’s Gothenburg Book Fair and catch up with all the changes the Scandinavian publishing scene has seen recently. The audio format has continued to grow exponentially, especially for the commercial fiction (crime, romance, feel-good), and commercial non-fiction (personal development, health) genres, but also for middle-grade and young adult titles. Audio publishers are looking to acquire translation rights for the Nordic languages, but also for other languages, including French, German, Dutch, and Polish. Publishers of literary fiction are always looking for the next best thing, award-winning and bestselling authors, with a focus on non-English books. The competition with the original English editions has been hitting the bookstores in a hard way, especially for books for readers in the age groups of 13+, young adult and New Adult, as well as for genre literature including horror, fantasy, and science-fiction. Anyone under the age of 40 can read directly in English, and they discover and follow English books thanks to BookTok and other social media channels. What surprised me the most was the comment that one editor made about people reading Annie Ernaux’s books in English as it’s more prestigious to do so! In any case, Nordic translations of authors of this stature are still selling quite well in print. As 2 Seas Agency represents publishers from France, French-speaking Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, and Brazil, I had plenty of titles to pitch during my meetings. With the help of multilingual readers, scouts reports and the translation grants that several of these countries can provide, it has been easier to sell these titles to Nordic countries than before.
Trends have been shifting. Literary publishers or very commercial publishers are now also looking into standalone book club titles, that could do well in any format. A lot of traditionally literary publishers have started experimenting with upmarket and commercial titles. Others, who had already been publishing these genres, are turning to more commercial books (crime, romance, historical novels, feel good; mostly in series) which would work well in the audiobook format.
Even though some editors pointed out the oversaturated publishing market, changes in the readers’ interest, cost of stands at the fair, and the strong competition of English-language titles, they seemed ready to face these challenges: they’re making changes to their editorial programs, looking at other languages to translate from, developing audio formats, and changing their distribution. The adaptability of publishers to the trends and needs constitutes the essence that keeps them going and being successful with what they are publishing.
Despite the challenges that everyone is facing nowadays, the atmosphere was quite joyful, publishers were excited about their authors that were attending, their bestselling titles, and unexpected successes. They seemed thrilled to dive into new genres or explore new markets and new formats, testing and adapting all the way and keeping a positive attitude all along.